By: Lucas Widner

On Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3, almost one thousand high school and college students filled the Activity Center and Eagle Gym to show off their robotics skills in the 2018 Arizona State VEX Robotics State Championship.

Seventy teams competed, with fourteen in the university division and fifty-six in the high school division.

All the high school teams were from Arizona, but some college teams travelled much further to compete in this event, such as Team BUFF, which came all the way from Boulder, Colorado.

This is the second year that this event has been hosted at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). 

Hundreds of parents, friends, and supporters filled the south bleachers in the Activity Center, watching matches on the five game fields on the floor throughout the day.

The US Army and the ERAU admissions department set up displays to try and attract some of the several hundred high school participants to their programs, and the Army even brought a fully assembled UAV to show off.

ERAU’s VEX Robotics club built an interactive robot called “convenience bot” that was adorned with game pieces and robotic claws that drove around and interacted with some of the students.

Three additional game fields were set up to give teams a chance to practice and compete in either the driver or autonomous skills competitions. 

This year’s VEX Robotics game, called “In the Zone,” is played on a twelve-foot square field with foam tiles covering the floor and a small fence around the perimeter.

The goal is to score as many yellow plastic “cones” on either high, fixed bases or low, mobile bases and move the mobile bases into scoring zones in opposing corners of the field.

Teams compete directly against another team during each two-minute match.

The first fifteen seconds of each match for the high school division or forty-five seconds for the university division is autonomous control only, so the drivers are not allowed to control the robot. The winner of the autonomous section is awarded bonus points.

The driver then takes over with a PlayStation-like controller and scores as many cones and bases as possible before the match ends.  

The robots are built primarily from steel and aluminum parts resembling those from Erector Sets and must start each match inside an imaginary 18-inch cube for the high school division, and a 24-inch cube for the college division, but then can expand once the match starts. Teams can use 12 electric motors per robot, in addition to pneumatic pistons.

Teams can use as many sensors as they want, and can 3D print small parts for their robots as well. Programming is done in a variation of the C language called RobotC, which is specially adapted for robotics usage.


Each team is also required to record all their work in an engineering notebook, which shows that they are documenting and following the engineering design process correctly.  

All three of ERAU’s teams (Blue, White, and Gold) competed in the university division, with the Gold team finishing fifth, Blue team finishing tenth, and White team finishing fourteenth.

The rankings are only part of the story, however, as more awards are given at the end of the competition.

For both high school and university divisions, awards such as Design (how well the team documented their build and followed the engineering design process), Judges (best interview skills), Skills (a combination of driver and autonomous scoring ability), and Excellence (highest award given to the best overall team) were awarded and some of the winning teams also earned a qualification spot to attend the 2018 VEX World Championship.  

Team PYRO from Arizona State University (ASU) went undefeated in the university division, swept the finals to become the Tournament Champions, and won the Design Award.

Team SCC1 from Scottsdale Community College won the Robot Skills Award, and their sister team SCC2 advanced to the finals to win the Tournament Finalist Award.

ERAU’s Gold team won the Excellence Award, their first at this level of competition. Teams PYRO, ERAU Gold, and SCC2 each earned World Championship qualifying spots.

In the high school division, Team 5090Z “Radio Active” from Chandler, Ariz., won the Excellence Award, and the Robot Skills Award went to Team 2114X “Brother Bots.”

The alliance of teams 2114Z “Team da Vinci,” 2114X “Brother Bots,” and 8373H “Twisted Axles” from Phoenix, Ariz., won the Tournament Champion Awards after two very competitive finals rounds.  

Once again, ERAU hosted a fantastic robotics tournament that was fun to watch and showed the truly amazing innovation and engineering by the high school and university students that competed, with an incredible turnout of over one thousand competitors and spectators.

This is also the first time any of ERAU’s teams will be competing in the World Championship, with six team members flying to Louisville, Ky.,at the end of April to compete and represent ERAU.

This trip would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of the Undergraduate Research Institute, which has strongly supported ERAU’s VEX Robotics Club and their efforts to host competitions like this one.  

Any student wanting to learn more about ERAU’s VEX Robotics Club or the VEX Robotics Competition can contact club president Lucas Widner at []. 





Leave a Reply